Worcester Telegram & Gazette July 27, 2003

We're No. 1
State's new moniker will be 'Feeachusetts' Massachusetts has picked up another dubious distinction: It has imposed more fee hikes than any other state this year. More than $500 million in fees, hitting every possible target in sight, ranging from marriage licenses to real estate transactions, were upped in budgets OK'd by the Legislature and Gov. Mitt Romney. To be sure, this is preferable to a tax hike, especially only one year after lawmakers enacted the largest tax increase in state history. But the nickels, dimes and dollars are coming out of the same pockets--ours. In the last two years, members of the House and Senate have made a point of trying to close the budget gap--$2.5 billion this year--by any means possible except the kind of structural budget reforms that are needed. In addition to the record tax hike, they have raised fees, nullified a voter-approved income tax rollback, spent billions of dollars in rainy-day reserves and shifted hundreds of millions of dollars onto the backs of the municipalities all while reinstating $150 million in spending vetoed cut by Mr. Romney. Yet, some of the biggest budget busters are hardly acknowledged, including the massive, much-abused $7 billion Medicaid program for the poor that consumes one-quarter of the budget, with no end in sight. Already, taxpayer advocacy groups are estimating next year's structural deficit at $2 billion to $2.5 billion. Of the 30 states the National Conference of State Legislatures found raised fees this year, only nine are bringing in $100 million or more from those fee hikes. Massachusetts $500 million boost even topped the $367 million fee increase in New York, which has a much larger budget. State officials like to differentiate between taxes and fees by defining fees as charges to pay for a specific service. But, as the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation points out, many of the fee hikes are not for a particular service but will pay for general state operations. Massachusetts 2004 budget writers avoided use of the dreaded T-word. In truth, however, people living and doing business in Massachusetts are paying more in taxes, disguised in the cloak of political expediency.

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